In Moses v. Roger-McKeever, Cal. Ct. App. Case. No. A164405, the California Court of Appeal considered whether a condominium tenant had a legal duty to warn a visitor about the conditions of a stairwell and entryway leading to her condominium and/or to maintain and repair the allegedly dangerous condition that existed.
Factual and Procedural Background
Eleanor Moses attended a political event at the home of Pascale Roger-McKeever on Feb. 3, 2018, at her apartment in Albany, California. Roger-McKeever was a tenant in a condominium complex. Moses claimed to have slipped and fallen on the steps leading up to the entryway to Roger-McKeever’s rented home and filed a lawsuit against her in Jan. 2020. Moses alleged a premises liability claim, arguing that Roger-McKeever negligently allowed a dangerous condition to exist on the entry stairs that she knew or should have known about.
Roger-McKeever filed a motion for summary judgment in April 2021 and argued that Moses did not have a triable question of material fact to present to a jury. She argued that the entryway steps were a common area or walkway outside of Roger-McKeever’s control and responsibility, so Roger-McKeever was not liable for any accident and injuries that Moses might have suffered. In the alternative, she argued that if the area where the incident allegedly occurred was within her control and responsibility, she did not have know, either directly or indirectly, about the dangerous condition that caused Moses to fall and was not involved in the maintenance, construction, or repair of the entryway.
Roger-McKeever pointed out that she had lived in the condominium for several years and that while many guests had used the entry, no one had complained to her about the condition of the stairs in the entryway or the lighting of it during that time. Finally, she argued that she did not act or fail to act in such a way as to cause the injuries suffered by Moses and submitted portions of the deposition of two witnesses who testified they did not notice any lighting problems with the entryway or stairs the night the incident allegedly occurred.
Moses filed an opposition to the motion and argued that there were material issues of triable fact about whether Roger-McKeever knew about the allegedly dangerous condition of the entryway and stairs. Moses submitted a declaration in which she stated that when she arrived, she complained about the lighting on the stairs and entryway to Roger-McKeever, who allegedly acknowledged the issue and stated the porch light had an electrical problem. Roger-McKeever reportedly told Moses that her landlord had not responded to her complaints about the lighting issue.
Moses included a photograph of the entryway that showed three stairs leading up to the condominium. She said that when she was leaving, it was too dark for her to see the second step. She alleged that she missed the second step, fell, and was injured. She also submitted a declaration from a mechanical engineer who stated the stairs were not compliant with existing building codes and lacked a railing. The engineer said the height of the risers combined with the absence of a railing contributed to the accident.
Roger-McKeever filed a reply to Moses’ opposition to the summary judgment motion. She argued that Moses failed to raise a triable issue of material fact with her evidence about the lighting conditions of the entryway and stairs and that Moses had failed to point to any issue with the stairs that a reasonable person would identify as an unreasonable risk. She also argued that the mechanical engineer’s declaration was inadmissible and should not be considered.
The court ruled in Roger-McKeever’s favor on her motion in Oct. 2021, finding that Roger-McKeever did not have control over the entryway or stairs or the lighting in that area and did not have a duty to repair or maintain them. The trial court also found that the stairs did not contain an obvious danger that would have obligated Roger-McKeever to warn Moses about their condition. Moses filed an appeal.
Issue: Did Roger-McKeever’s duty of care extend to include the entryway and stairs leading to her condominium?
On appeal, Moses argued she did present triable issues of material fact that Roger-McKeever’s legal duty included the duty to repair and maintain the stairs and entry leading to her condo entrance and that she also had a duty to warn Moses about the conditions. Roger-McKeever argued that she did not have a legal duty to repair or maintain the stairs and entryway as a tenant because the area was a common area controlled and maintained by her landlord. Since she did not owe a legal duty to Moses based on her lack of control and responsibility over the entryway, she argued that she also did not have a duty to warn Moses about the conditions.
Rule: All people and entities have a duty to exercise reasonable care in managing their property to protect the safety of others.
Under Cal. Civ. Code § 1714, every person in California has a legal duty to exercise reasonable care when managing their property to prevent lawfully present parties from being foreseeably injured by dangerous conditions that the property owner or operator knows or reasonably should know about. However, a person does not owe an affirmative duty of care to others to protect them from dangerous conditions that they did not create and did not do anything to increase the danger.
The principle of premises liability holds the owners and possessors of property in California liable when they fail to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition and to promptly correct dangers that they know or should reasonably know about to prevent visitors from suffering foreseeable injuries. For tenants, this duty of care extends to the areas of the property that the tenant controls but not common areas outside of their premises that are managed by their landlords.
The Court of Appeal began by considering whether Roger-McKeever’s duty of care extended to include the stairs and entryway leading to her porch and condominium entrance. Tenants must inspect their premises and correct any dangerous conditions they discover that could foreseeably injure a visitor. However, tenants can’t be liable for dangerous conditions on property the tenant doesn’t control or possess. For this reason, tenants are generally not liable for injuries that happen because of dangers that exist in common areas outside of their premises since they do not possess or control those areas. However, a tenant might become liable for failing to warn visitors about a dangerous condition in a common area outside of their leased premises if they have exercised control over that area.
Moses argued that Roger-McKeever implicitly exercised control over the entryway and stairs by inviting Moses to her home. Roger-McKeever argued that since she had no control over or possession of the stairs and entryway, she didn’t owe a legal duty to Moses. The court noted that when a tenant exercises actual control over a common area outside of the premises, they will be liable if someone is injured by an uncorrected, known danger that exists in that area. However, when a tenant hasn’t exercised control over a common area outside of the leased premises, they will not owe a legal duty of care and won’t be liable for injuries.
The court reviewed Roger-McKeever’s actions and found that she had taken no affirmative action to exercise control over the entryway or stairs leading to her condominium. Since these areas were not included in her lease, and she had exercised no control over their care or maintenance, she did not owe a duty of care to Moses.
Moses argued that Roger-McKeever should still be held liable since she could have taken steps to prevent injuries, including placing a lamp or warning signs outside to illuminate the stairs and warn visitors. However, the court noted that since Roger-McKeever had no control over the condition of the stairs or entryway, she did not owe a duty to take these types of preventative measures.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the trial court to grant Roger-McKeever’s summary judgment motion. It ordered Moses to pay Roger-McKeever’s costs on appeal.
Consult a Los Angeles Premises Liability Lawyer
If you suffered injuries from a hazardous condition on someone else’s property while you were there as a guest, you might have grounds to pursue compensation for your losses. An experienced premises liability attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC can review your case and explain whether it has legal merits. To learn more, contact us for a free consultation by calling 866.966.5240.